Aaron Nola made his free-agent decision this weekend, igniting a palpable sense of panic across the baseball-loving nation.
Objectively, there are still a healthy amount of free-agent starting pitchers available — 11 of the top 30 free agents on TSN’s list are starters, and that doesn’t count Shohei Ohtani. But Nola was right up near the top of another, very short list: the free-agent starting pitchers fans of several teams REALLY wanted. He was the horse, the innings-eater, the rock their favorite team’s rotation needed up top. He was the dream, and it seemed achievable.
And now he’s gone, back in Philly on a well-deserved 7-year, $172 million contract.
Their desperate, pleading eyes will focus on Yoshinobu Yamamoto this week, even though a fair amount of those fans had probably never heard of him a few months ago. The pitching sensation has been the best hurler in Japan for several years now, and that’s really saying something considering he’s only 25 years old. And the fact that he’s just 25 is the icing on the top of the free-agent cake. Every other “significant” free agent starter is at least 29.
Big news today in the baseball world. @MLB teams have been notified that Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s posting window begins at 8 am ET tomorrow (Nov. 21) and expires at 5 pm ET on Jan. 4, 2024.
Can’t wait. Let’s go. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 20, 2023
Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s stats in Japan’s NPB
Check out Yamamoto’s NPB numbers the past three seasons.
2021: 1.39 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 0.847 WHIP
2022: 1.68 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 0.927 WHIP
2023: 1.21 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 0.866 WHIP
Video-game stuff, right? There are always questions about how numbers will translate from the NPB to MLB, of course. But consider that Yamamoto’s numbers are better than the stellar numbers produced by Kodai Senga in his last three years in Japan, and Senga was outstanding for the Mets as an MLB rookie in 2023: 29 starts, 2.98 ERA/3.63 FIP, 166 1/3 innings, 126 hits, 202 strikeouts.
Senga, who turned 30 about a month after agreeing with the Mets, signed a 5-year, $75 million deal with the Mets. At 25 — he doesn’t turn 26 until August — with better NPB numbers, Yamamoto’s deal will more than double Senga’s total value, and might come close to tripling it. That’s the separator here, the total value. Yamamoto could easily get to $200 million, and that’s a price some front offices just won’t get to.
As others have noted, only four pitchers have signed for deals of at least $200 million. Gerrit Cole has been great for the first four seasons of his nine-year deal. Max Scherzer was worth every single penny for the Nationals. But David Price was good-not-great for only four of the seven years of his deal with the Red Sox — though he did have some huge moments leading to the 2018 World Series title. Stephen Strasburg’s deal was a complete injury bust.
Big risk, potential big reward. Let’s take a look at some potential landing spots.
The Mets have the best odds in Vegas, mostly because many view this as strictly a bidding competition, and no team is better suited to win one of those than the Mets, with owner Steve Cohen’s deep pockets. And, no doubt, the Mets need rotation help. How much help? Well, Yamamoto would just be the start, with at least one or two more needed.
Their level of involvement depends on the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Dodgers almost certainly can’t sign both Ohtani and Yamamoto, and they won’t dole out $200 million for Yamamoto if that takes them out of the Ohtani equation.
Take a look through the free-agent odds and it’s clear those in Vegas expect the Red Sox to make at least one major move this offseason — they’re top-five for Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Josh Hader, Jordan Montgomery, Ohtani and Yamamoto. They were top-five for Nola, too, and they’re top-five to trade for Juan Soto.
Let’s say they miss on Ohtani. It’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where they land Yamamoto to address the rotation, then trade for Juan Soto to impact the lineup. Heck, if that scenario looks realistic before Ohtani makes his choice, they might preemptively choose that option.
Yep, there’s a need in the rotation. Big one. Kinda hard to see the current Steinbrenner in charge adding another massive contract to the equation, though.
The Giants feel destined to make some player an offer they just can’t refuse, even an overpay to land a star. Could very well be Yamamoto, who could very well thrive in San Francisco’s pitcher-friendly home ballpark.
Cardinals fans had their hearts set on Nola, and signing Lance Lynn won’t do anything to satiate their appetite for Yamamoto. Hard to see them giving all that money to one pitcher, tho.
Didn’t take long after the Nola news broke that reports came out indicating the Phillies were still in on Yamamoto. Would almost be like the Rangers signing Corey Seager AND Marcus Semien a few years ago.
Atlanta was reportedly right there in the mix for Nola, showing intent to land an ace-type pitcher to the top of the rotation. Yamamoto would slot in nicely with Spencer Strider and Max Fried, wouldn’t he?
Wouldn’t be the first time a high-dollar free-agent signing worked out well for the Rangers, eh?
No doubt about it, the D-backs need another established arm in the rotation with Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Will they pay what it takes to sign Yamamoto? Feels like they’ll address that need at a lower monetary total, doesn’t it?
Looking for a dark-horse candidate to sign Yamamoto? Could do worse than Houston.
When you look at the Angels’ issues during the Ohtani years, the lack of reliable starters — especially an ace — was right up at the top of the list. Signing Yamamoto would help remedy that for new manager Ron Washington’s club.
Source : ESPN.com